Updated: September 29, 2021 7:16:13 am
Ajit Manjhi, 31, worked for the last 10 years as a migrant labourer in Mumbai and Bengaluru, earning up to Rs 10,000 a month. When the pandemic struck, he returned to his home in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district in May 2020 and decided to farm on three acres of his land. In the same district, farmer Raju Mahato has harvested 20 tons of cucumber on his five acres. Around 150 km away, in Khunti district, a group of 10 farmers, including Rajesh Munda, is expecting its 500 quintals of harvested ginger to fetch at least Rs 7/per kg more than the market price. Manjhi, meanwhile, is expecting a profit of Rs 1 lakh annually per acre.
Common to all three areas is a Jharkhand-based start-up that has been working over the last four years in the state to build a support system for farmers. Currently operating from 12 districts, KissanPro caters to the needs of more than 10,000 farmers—providing them with advisories, input supplies such as fertilisers and seeds, and market linkages to their produce, mainly vegetables and fruits.
Manjhi, Mahato and Munda say they got assistance in planning the crop, soil testing, drip irrigation management, immediate tips on WhatsApp, cheaper seeds and fertilizers, and better prices for their produce.
KissanPro co-founder Pankaj Roy makes it clear it is a ‘for-profit’ business, “but not at the cost of exploiting farmers”. “ We currently don’t charge farmers for advisories, and are able to give them a better price for input supplies since we buy directly from manufacturers in bulk. We are connected to a few institutional buyers and are helping farmers get a better price. This is where we also earn, as of now,” says Roy.
The company feels there is a substantial market for agri business despite the government operating in this segment. The Jharkhand government connects farmers to the market through Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committees and the National Agriculture Market (e-NAM), a pan-India electronic trading portal. Asked if start-ups in this sector would be helpful for farmers, Agriculture Secretary Abu Bakr Siddiqui says: “Any agency, whether government or private, that reaches out to farmers with scientific and correct advisories will certainly help them.”
Farmer Munda says the services of the company have assumed importance in Jharkhand—a state where experts say most of the land with agricultural potential is owned by tribal communities which may not be aware of best practices in ramping up farm produce. KissanPro says it is addressing this issue.
The Indian Express spoke to at least ten farmers using KissanPro and none of them is currently trading their produce on e-NAM.
The company incorporated itself as KissanPro in 2020 but Roy has been working since 2016 with just a proof of concept. It earned revenues of Rs 10 lakh, Rs 25 lakh and Rs 40 lakh in the years 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively— with a 30-40% profit in all these years, he says.
Ravindra Dasoundhi, CEO and co-founder KissanPro, said: “Till 2021 i.e by December end, we will do an annualised run rate of USD 5 million.”
For farmers, the benefits are many. Take Mahato for instance. He got a discount on seeds for his watermelon crop, and on fertilisers, secondary fertilisers and pesticides. He also received an advisory that recommended he turn to drip irrigation, which the government gives a 90 per cent subsidy on. There were other recommendations related to rainfall and choice of crop to grow.
Then, the company linked him to buyers. Altogether, he earned a profit of Rs 2-2.5 lakh last year. This year, however, he suffered a loss owing to logistical issues borne out of the pandemic.
Experts say the sector has huge opportunities for businesses, but needs proper production planning.
M S Yadav, Director of the Centre of Agribusiness Management, Birsa Agricultural University, says middlemen are one of the major reasons why most farmers are not interested in trading in e-NAM. “The middlemen lures them initially and later they don’t give them good money. On e-Nam only 25-30% of the farmers are registered and that too they use sparingly.”
Another scientist, BK Jha, says the agri market is very scattered. “There are a few NGOs, a few entrepreneurs working in specific segments, but there is a huge opportunity. However, one of the major challenges affecting this sector is scientific production planning as there is surplus vegetable production and less consumption. The government needs to think about exports.”
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